BACKGROUND: Stress is often associated with the intake of energy-dense palatable foods. This trial examined the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of an 8-week worksite-based relaxation intervention to address psychological stress and unhealthy food intake.
METHODS: Thirty-six men and women were exposed to an acute stressor, while physiological and psychological responses were assessed, prior to being offered a test meal. Participants were then randomised to a relaxation intervention (RELAX; face-to-face classes and daily home practice of progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness meditation), or a wait-list control (CON). All measures were repeated after the intervention.
RESULTS: Intervention compliance was high (80% ± 19% face-to-face; 79% ± 18% home practice), and each session acutely reduced perceived stress (p < .001) and increased relaxation (p < .001). After 8 weeks, trait mindfulness was increased (p = .025), along with reduced tension (p = .013) and increased relaxation (p < .05) post-acute stressor in the intervention group. There was no effect of the intervention on palatable eating, cravings, or energy intake at a laboratory test meal, with small associated effect sizes (d = 0.01-0.3).
CONCLUSIONS: The program studied here is feasible and sessions transiently reduce perceived stress and improve mindfulness; however, the program may not influence the physiological response to an acute stressor or appetite and eating variables.